Tennessee legislators have approved legislation -- expected to soon be signed into law -- that would ease the transfer of students from community colleges to four-year institutions, and would shift much of the state's funding of higher ed from a formula based on enrollment to one based on graduation rates, The Tennessean reported. The idea behind the legislation is to motivate colleges to focus on degree completion and to raise graduation rates, but critics fear it could encourage college to minimize academic standards so more students get through.
Higher Education Quick Takes
Colleges in a tracking project of the American College Health Association are continuing to report fewer new cases of H1N1 or similar illnesses, but some campuses are reporting gains in the percentage of students who have been vaccinated. Nationally, only about 9 percent of students at the colleges being tracked have been vaccinated. But the association is now reporting that with increased availability of the vaccine, some campuses report rates in the 25-30 percent range. Details are available on the association's Web site.
The Gateway to College Program, which helps high school dropouts and near-dropouts finish high school while they get a start on college-level courses, is announcing today $13 million in grants from four foundations to expand to 15 more community colleges and in some new directions. The program now works with 24 two-year institutions in 15 states, including Portland Community College in Oregon, where it was founded. The grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Kresge Foundation will add to that list and also expand the program to 18- to 26-year-olds, in a pilot program at nine colleges.
Foreign language instruction in elementary and secondary schools is "no better -- and in some areas worse" -- than it was in 1997, according to the "National K-12 Foreign Language Survey." The study found "pockets of innovation" in teaching methods and increases (from a very low base) in the teaching of Arabic and Chinese. But many other findings -- with implications for foreign language programs at colleges and universities -- suggested backward movement. The teaching of French, German and Russian all are down at both the elementary and secondary level; the gaps between foreign language availability at public and private schools have grown larger; and "severe" teacher shortages exist in many areas. The report, based on a national survey, was conducted by the Center for Applied Linguistics for the U.S. Education Department.
The Department of Veterans Affairs pledged Wednesday that it is prepared to process benefits requests in a timely way as the spring semester gets started. Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill started last year, the VA has paid more than $1.3 billion in benefits to more than 170,000 students. At the start of the fall semester, many veterans and the colleges that were enrolling them reported serious delays in the certification of students and delivery of their benefits. Wednesday's statement acknowledged that some students faced "financial hardships" as a result. The new statement said that the VA has processed over 72,000 of the approximately 103,000 spring enrollments received.
Northwestern College, in Minnesota, is facing an "identity crisis," The Star Tribune reported. Some students and alumni accuse the college of trying to weed out traditional professors and trustees and to shift toward a "postmodern" theology, the newspaper said. Administrators and trustees say that no philosophical shift has taken place and that the controversy is all the work of a small group of disgruntled alumni.
A New Hampshire judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the decision of Dartmouth College to expand the size of its board, effectively reducing the proportion of trustees that are elected by alumni. The ruling was based in part on the dismissal of a similar, earlier challenge to the college's board expansion.
Israel's government is backing the stance of the Ariel University Center of Samaria, located on the West Bank, that it is indeed an Israeli university and not a college, Haaretz reported. The institution was founded as a college and has been pushing for university status, with backing from those who advocate a strong Israeli presence on the West Bank. Advocates for Palestinians have criticized the growth of the institution as needlessly disruptive to peace talks.
Many who are affiliated with the Baylor College of Medicine -- which has for years been independent of Baylor University -- are worried about discussions going on to merge back into the university, The Houston Chronicle reported. A petition and many faculty comments raise questions about Baylor University's religious ties and whether they would interfere with work at the medical college that is based on evolution or deals with sexual orientation or uses stem cells, to name but a few of the concerns. Baylor College of Medicine officials say that the talks with the university would not change the medical school's non-sectarian status. The medical college is facing serious financial challenges, and the current talks follow the collapse of merger talks with Rice University.
The University of California Board of Regents is expected this week to approve incentive pay of $3.1 million for executives at the university's medical centers, and once again the university is being criticized for the extra funds it offers senior administrators, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. University officials say that the incentive pay rewards officials who met certain goals and that these goals improve patient care. But unions representing health care workers say that the administrators are being rewarded in part for efficiency, which leads to policies that result in understaffing of nurses. While incentive pay also is awarded to the rank and file, the unions note the gap between the average incentive payment to an administrator ($81,579) and everyone else ($1,391).